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Karlín Musical Theatre

Otto Ehlen

alias the Karlín Varieté Theatre, State Theatre in Karlín, Theatre of the Capital City of Prague, Comic Opera, Theatre of Art for People, Theatre in Karlín, Operetta in Karlín
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1881 | Opening

The original building came about from the initiative of the Prague businessman Eduard Tichý over the years 1880-1881. The theatre was called Théatre Varieté and executed according to the plans by the German architect Otto Ehlen (1831-1898) in the spirit of late Historicism by the construction company of František Kindl. The theatre was opened on the 27th of August 1881.


(detail)1897 | Reconstruction

Eduard Tichý Jr. undertook reconstruction work on the structure in the year 1897 according to a project by the Imperial Court architect Friedrich Ohmann. The reconstruction of the original Karlín variety theatre mainly involved the inner spaces of the building. The relatively plain interiors were furnished with rich Neo-Baroque décor. The theatre's  operations resumed on the 4th of September 1897.


(detail)1927 | Reconstruction

The building authority allowed Theatre Varieté to add annexes of five shops in the direction of Palackého (today Křižíkova) street with an entrance into the courtyard with nine garages at the eastern side of the structure in the year 1927. The project was carried out by the construction and architectural office of Richard Goldreich.


(detail)1941 | Reconstruction

Adaptations to the stage and foyer came about over the years 1939-41 along with reconstruction and expansion of the technical equipment for the building.


(detail)60. 's 20. century | Reconstruction
An extensive addition came about over the years 1960-62 consisting of a long two-storey southern wing including the volume of the earlier winter garden on its ground floor. The annex was carried out by the State Institute for Designing Construction Work of the Capital City of Prague under the leadership of Josef Polák (project 1959).
(detail)1970 | Design

Plans by František Fencl for large-scale reconstruction along with additions to the theatre in the style of Brutalist architecture from the year 1970 were never finally realised.


(detail)90. 's 20. century | Reconstruction

Permission for the establishment of a small stage for one actor through the adaptation and reconstruction of the former storage area in the basement of the theatre date from the year 1991. Repairs and reconstruction of the ceiling also occurred in connection with the last mentioned changes. This stage was once again adapted in the year 1995 by the architects Josef Zubák and Miroslav Melena for the Small Stage of  Semafor Theatre with a capacity for an audience of 150 people.


(detail)2005 | Reconstruction

The theatre was destroyed by extensive flooding in the year 2002. The consequent costly reconstruction was begun on the 18th of February 2005. The authors of the architectural design were “Association for the Karlín Musical Theatre”; PRAGO-PROJEKT, a.s.; d plus, a.s.; ANIMA s.r.o.: Jindřich Smetana, Tomáš Kulík, Petr Doležal, Petr Brožek. The author of the design of the interiors was Atelier Pelcl: Jiří Pelcl, Jiří Novotný, Barbara Friedrichová.


(detail)2006 | Opening
The reconstruction was completed on the 30th of September 2006. The theatre was ceremonially opened on the 12th of October 2006 with the opening night of the musical The Producers by the authors Mel Brooks (music, screenplay) and Thomas Meehan (script).
(detail)2007 | The building of the Year

The theatre received the Prize of the Mayor of the Capital City of Prague in the year 2007, this being an architectural competition with the theatre awarded for a significant contribution to the renewal of Karlín and for sensitively uniting the original and new architecture.


People

Otto Ehlen |main architect
Rudolf Krieghamm |architect
Petr Brožek |architect
Petr Doležal |architect
(detail)Tomáš Kulík |architect

Contemporary Czech architect. He works in ANIMA- TECH project association.

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(detail)Miroslav Melena |architect

A stage designer, an architect and a teacher died on August 8, 2008. He studied at the College of Pedagogy in Cyril Bouda’s and Karel Lidický’s studios and later at Theatre Faculty, Academy of Performing Arts in Prague under František Tröster. In 1967 he started working as a stage designer in Ostrava Theatre of Petr Bezruč, from 1969 he worked in Liberec Naive Theatre and later on he cooperated mainly with Prague Theatre Y. In the years 1980 to 1981 he was a head of stage design in Maribor. In 1972, at Serbian Novy Sad Triennale he was awarded a winning price for a setting designed for a play The Earl Monte Christo. Among the outstanding features of Melena’s stage designs belongs blending of scene and costumes in their almost provocative variability calling up reminiscence to surrealistic performances of the 20’s. However, next to scenography Melena gradually expressed himself more and more as a theatre designer – mostly as a head of multi-member team. Thus he gave a new resemblance to auditoriums and scenes of Brno Municipal Theatre, Prague Theatre Fidlovačka, Horácké Theatre in Jihlava, Municipal Theatre in Sokolov, Brno Reduta and lastly to Semafor Theatre. All of his stages distinguish themselves by ingenious stage design, and by dispositionally functional and smart to sight, sometimes also lively colourful appearance of the auditorium. The most salient among his projects was a solution of Prague Theatre Archa where a system of movable tables which fill the whole space enables a free open arrangement of the stage and the auditorium according to individual stage designer’s needs. As an exhibition designer Melena gave a very rich inventional shape to an exhibition of his teacher František Tröster’s life-work in 1991. Melena worked as a Head of Architecture Department at Faculty of Architecture and Arts, Technical University in Liberec. His creed of a theatre architect was expressed in an article he published in a cultural weekly magazine A2 (2007, issue 24). Here he confessed his love to Classical Theatre for its perfect solution of an audience and actor relationship, but also mutual relationship among spectators and their art experience. Melena did not agree with Baroque theatre’s introduction of stage portal which he called “absorber of theatricality”. However he did not hesitate to take over from the Baroque heritage a system of boxes or side slips. He believed their implication lead to a desired contact among the audience during the performance and to reach such goal a consistent arched tract of rows were to be used. Death caught Melena by surprise in the middle of his work on plans of a new Ostrava Theatre of Petr Bezruč, New Scene of Prague National Theatre and Brno Janacek Opera. (Jiří Hilmera)

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Josef Zubák |architect
František Fencl |architect
(detail)František Kindl |architect

Prague builder.

In:

Vlček, Pavel a kol. : Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníků v Čechách, str. 309, Praha 2004.


(detail)Jindřich Smetana |architect

He graduated on Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague in 1979 by professor  Josef Svoboda, with whom he cooperated in the National Theatre – Laterna Magica. Apart stage designing, exhibitions and audiovisual art, he is involved in building of culture structures in architecture. He realized the design of Prague theatre Spirála (1991) with atelier LO-TECH in the field of theatre architecture. In joint authorship with Tomáš  Kulík, he realized the theatre Alfred in the Courtyard (1997), Globe (1999), Multimedia Cyber Dome Estrella (design 1998) and other projects.

In:

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Barbara Friedrichová |interior designer
Jiří Novotný |interior designer
Jiří Pelcl |interior designer
Eduard Tichý |contractor

History

The Karlín Theatre is the third oldest Prague theatre building still serving its original purpose after the Estates Theatre and the National Theatre. The original building came about from the initiative of the Prague businessman Eduard Tichý over the years 1880-1881. The theatre was called Théatre Varieté and executed according to the plans by the German architect Otto Ehlen (1831-1898) in the spirit of late Historicism by the construction company of František Kindl. The theatre was opened on the 27th of August 1881. The owner had the intention of renting the building to various travelling troupes and circuses, with the space able to be transformed into a circus ring when needed. The theatre facilities provided stables for up to 84 horses. The original auditorium had a capacity for an audience of 2,000 people, with viewers having the option to sit at tables and receive refreshment. The founder's oldest son Karel Tichý came up with the idea of transforming the building into a permanent variety theatre. A new era was begun in the theatre with a new repertoire on the 5th of September1885. After the death of E. Tichý in the year 1891, his sons took over running the organisation. Eduard Tichý Jr. undertook further reconstruction work on the structure in the year 1897 according to a project by the Imperial Court architect Friedrich Ohmann (1858-1927). The reconstruction of the original Karlín variety theatre mainly involved the inner spaces of the building. The relatively plain interiors were furnished with rich Neo-Baroque décor. After World War I, which resulted in stagnation to the theatre and its closing, the artistic director became Karel Hašler for a period of five years. In the year 1939 the German occupational government took over the Estates Theatre for the use of German theatre performances and assigned the Karlín Varieté to the National Theatre as the so-called Provisional Theatre. Re-organisation of the theatres came about after the year 1945, with the operetta genre assigned to the Karlín Varieté Theatre and to the Theatre in Nusle. The theatre received yet another name, Operetta in Karlín and the Comic Opera in the year  1948. After this year it came under the authority of the Czechoslovak State Film and received the name Theatre of Art for People and consequently Theatre in Karlín. The theatre was run by Jan Werich and Oldřich Nový. The theatre became the property of the capital city of Prague in the year 1950 and under the leadership of Jiří Frejka bore the name Theatre of the Capital City of Prague. The theatre was returned to the state after the year 1954 and became the State Theatre in Karlín. It became once again the property of the city in the year 1961 and as of the year 1977 carries the name Karlín Musical Theatre.

The Karlín Theatre is an impressive building which received a protected monument status in the year 1964. Its interior documents the period of transition from eclectic Historicism to the new style of the Viennese Art Nouveau. The author of the original building was the architect Otto Ehlen, known first and foremost for his interest in new technology. This architect was the first in the Czech Lands to utilise cement concrete for the realisation of his own villa in Prague at Letná from the year 1875. He was also the author of the shopping and tenement building (1872-73) in Prague on Jungmannovo square no. 767 with its unique iron construction. He also carried out in concrete the so-called Worker's House for the Gerhardt brothers in Poděbrady in the year 1877.

The oldest part of the theatre by O. Ehlen has been preserved in the basic longitudinal layout of the building, in the side wings of the earlier stables at the eastern courtyard and first and foremost in the main façade of the building.

The horizontally designed, northern entrance face of the building in the late Historicism style faces out on today's Křižíkova street. The composition of the façade is strictly symmetrical with three bays and two side porticoes with entrances. The central bay has a three-window scheme, while the side bays have a two-window structure. The Neo-Renaissance fronts show an employment of a classic architectural style. The two axis porticoes have a pseudo-Greek style, drawing from an order of Roman architecture and from Etruscan construction. The etage of the ground floor is articulated by facet bossage. The windows and portals are vaulted with enlarged arching. The entrance into the theatre is through two-leafed doors. The supporting structure for the building consists of masonry, while  the ceiling construction contains reinforced concrete beams. 

The circus ring with the parterre was disbanded in the year 1885 and reconstructed into a stage. These and later adaptations were connected with a new focus on the part of the theatre as well as with a several day guest visit by the Viennese theatre director Franz Jauner and his troupe. The Novoměstské divadlo (New Town Theatre) was demolished at that time, in order to free up a construction site for a new German Theatre (presently the State Opera), which Prague German theatre groups had used for summer performances. The Karlín Theatre was consequently chosen as the substitute site.

The daily newspaper Bohemia on the 25th of April 1886, states, however, that construction adaptations were carried out for increased comfort for the audience, along with reconstruction of the stage. This was all prior to the beginning of the summer theatre season with Strauss' operetta The Gypsy Baron performed by the Theater an der Wien on the 2nd of May 1886. The newspaper Bohemia from the 30th of April 1886 also wrote that the theatre contained 278 comfortable seats, a spacious, rising amphitheatre arranged gallery with seating, providing a direct view of the stage and large loges both on the right and left of the stage, designated for special guests and the management of the theatre. 

The consequent adaptations to Theatre Varieté were connected with the demolition of the fortifications between Nové Město (New Town) and Karlín, begun in the 1870s, when the city of Prague opened up to Karlín and vice versa. The reconstruction work according to a design by F. Ohmann got underway in February 1897 here. Ohmann, a pupil of Friedrich Schmidt at the Vienna Academy, was a capable eclectic, admirer and propagator of the Baroque who had worked as of the year 1888 in Prague as a teacher of decorative architecture at the Applied Arts School. The projects for the adaptation of Theatre Varieté by Ohmann from the years 1896-97 were exhibited at the Prague collective exhibition of the association Verein Deutscher Bildender Künstler in Böhmen in the year 1908. Ohmann cooperated on the design with the Viennese architect Rudolf Krieghammer (1860-?), a graduate of the Vienna Technical School and Academy, who he had earlier worked with on, for example, the adaptations to the Church of St. Simon and Jude in Arnoštovice (1892), the Produce Exchange on the Old Town Square in Prague (1895), Štorch House on the Old Town Square in Prague (1896-97) and others.

Due to insufficient finances, the reconstruction work only involved the interiors – the auditorium, the adjoining ceremonial areas and the restaurant in the side wing of the ground floor at Křižíkova street. Both the stage and auditorium were enlarged with a new, steel truss installed above the extension. The design of the space of the auditorium is one of the examples of the influence of the theatre projects of the Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. With the Karlín Theatre, Ohmann carried out a type of structure commonly designed by architects for variety and opera theatres, such as, for example, the Orpheum in Budapest or the Kapitol in Berlin. The main feature of this type consists of the employment of a light metal construction in order to create an airy space, a distinctly wide design of the auditorium, an arched false flat vault with an amphitheatre gallery on an almost circular ground plan. Another characteristic element involved a continuous row of 29 loges along the circumference of the balcony and a parterre with a flat floor for table furnishings. The balcony of the first floor was held up by cast iron columns painted white in imitation of marble with gilded Corinthian capitals. The wood chest-high balconies and loges are decorated with gilded sculptural ornamentation with vegetative motifs. The interior of the auditorium contained a central wall painting supplemented by rich stucco décor in the Neo-Baroque style. The portal of the stage with stucco gilded vegetative ornamentation and figures of putti is another marked decorative element. Wall paintings are also employed in spandrels under the vaulting in the auditorium hall. They consist of allegorical scenes from Greek mythology, as well as being figures composed in illusive architecture. The Hungarian painter Viktor Tardoss Krenner (1866-1927), graduate of the Budapest Academy and a teacher there as well from the year 1924, was the author of all of the wall paintings in the auditorium as well as the oil paintings on the curtain dealing with the theme of the glorification of theatre art. Krenner's frescos can also be seen in the Budapest Comedy Theatre. The painter also worked as a playwright.

A new restaurant with rich stucco décor on both the walls and the ceiling came into being on the ground floor of the northern wing. The stucco with vegetative ornamentation was also realised on the first floor, designated for the offices and ceremonial spaces of the theatre. The theatre's operations resumed on the 4th of September 1897.

The building authority allowed Theatre Varieté to add annexes of five shops in the direction of Palackého (today Křižíkova) street with an entrance into the courtyard with nine garages at the eastern side of the structure in the year 1927. The project was carried out by the construction and architectural office of Richard Goldreich.

An underground winter garden was built at the initiative of the management of the theatre in the year 1930 in the western part heading toward the narrow courtyard space between the theatre and the residential buildings of the former gallery. The table designed auditorium was disbanded in the year 1932, with the termination of the loges taking place at the same time.

The new owner Gustav Pley changed the garages into storage areas in the years 1936-37. Pley had the eastern part of the northern street tract adapted into office spaces in the main building. For these same reasons changes took place to the interior walls along with adaptations and realisations of new door openings. The majority of the construction changes to the theatre came about after the year 1939 when it was designated for the use of the National Theatre. Adaptations to the stage and foyer came about over the years 1939-41 along with reconstruction and expansion of the technical equipment for the building. Temporary dressing rooms were established east of the stage in the buildings of the former stables. The building authority granted permission for a projection booth for Czechoslovak State Film in the year 1950. The authority consequently approved the roofing of the courtyard and the construction of storage areas with workshops at the eastern façade in the year 1958. A more extensive addition came about over the years 1960-62 consisting of a long two-storey southern wing including the volume of the earlier winter garden on its ground floor. The annex was carried out by the State Institute for Designing Construction Work of the Capital City of Prague under the leadership of Josef Polák (project 1959). Plans by František Fencl for large-scale reconstruction along with additions to the theatre in the style of Brutalist architecture from the year 1970 were never finally realised. A snack bar was established in the years 1972-73, along with a ballet hall, office, changing room and social facilities. Construction activity from the year 1983 mainly focused on an extension to the southern wing and was realised by the Polish company Budimex. Adaptations to the western wing with a new entrance with a foyer came about in the year 1986. Permission for the establishment of a small stage for one actor through the adaptation and reconstruction of the former storage area in the basement of the theatre date from the year 1991. Repairs and reconstruction of the ceiling also occurred in connection with the last mentioned changes. This stage was once again adapted in the year 1995 by the architects Josef Zubák and Miroslav Melena (1937-2008) for the Small Stage of  Semafor Theatre with a capacity for an audience of 150 people.

The theatre was destroyed by extensive flooding in the year 2002. The consequent costly reconstruction was begun on the 18th of February 2005. The authors of the architectural design were “Association for the Karlín Musical Theatre”; PRAGO-PROJEKT, a.s.; d plus, a.s.; ANIMA s.r.o.: Jindřich Smetana, Tomáš Kulík, Petr Doležal, Petr Brožek. The author of the design of the interiors was Atelier Pelcl: Jiří Pelcl, Jiří Novotný, Barbara Friedrichová. The investor became the Capital City of Prague. The starting point for the design for the final reconstruction work became the adaptations to the structure from the year 1897 by Friedrich Ohmann.

Reconstruction to the historical building took place in the first part, while in the second stage the annexes were demolished which had been added to the east of the theatre in the direction of Negrelliho viaduct; a new building was constructed in their place. The overall concept of the reconstruction was based on a contrast between the original and contemporary architecture. A contrast between the decorative old spaces and new minimalist interiors also came about, with a dominant emphasis on surfaces, light, open space and materials, these being glass, concrete and metal.

The historical part of the theatre is enclosed by the geometrical cubes of the new construction. An impressive space in front of the theatre was created by the architects through removal of the side volume from the central structure and the consequent introduction of neutral surfaces of glazed façade belts along with an expanded pavement towards Křižíkova street. The western part consists of the annex from the 1980s which now serves as an entrance space. The main foyer with the cloakroom is situated here on the ground floor with minimalist foyers of different designs for refreshment on the first floor and in the basement. The glazed cube at the eastern side is the entrance for theatre employees as well as the communication axis for the southern wing. The new non-glazed part, added to the eastern façade of the theatre, contains the rear stage, storage for decorations, the loading tunnel, ballet hall and the technical facilities. The main task from the perspective of the stage technology became the breaking up of the originally shallow stage into a new space of a rear stage stretching along the supply corridor all the way to the preparatory utility space. The pure quadrants of a technical character have a specifically industrial feel, these being typical for the Karlín internal blocks. The reinforced concrete supporting structure from the the 1980s was cleaned while the upper floor was partially demolished with the space for the practice room newly covered with a flat roof with a steel supporting structure. The inappropriate layout and structures were removed. The southern tract is designated for theatre operations containing the dressing rooms for actors, and musicians as well as technical rooms, etc.

The interiors and exteriors of the historical building were carefully restored including the particular construction and art and crafts elements of the furnishings. Changes took place with the auditorium involving a necessary lowering of the level in the front by one metre in order to construct the elevation in the parterre. The area under the stage was deepened by the architects in a similar fashion, these being the front parts with the orchestra pit and the front half of the parterre. A new technological corridor was placed into the deepened rear part of the parterre connecting up the theatre facilities in the basement. There are now 921 seats in the auditorium. The roof above the historical building was stripped down to the supporting steel construction from riveted trusses and a new double layer roof with insulated mineral wool and roofing from titanium zinc plate was introduced. The original supporting construction above the stage was replaced by a new structure of a fly loft consisting of a reinforced concrete plate inserted into rolling steel profiles.

The reconstructed restaurant with a café, along with utility facilities in the basement, is located on the ground floor along Křižíkova street. The theatre offices are situated above the restaurant. The architects also designed the music café Karlínek in the basement with its own independent technical facilities.

The reconstruction was completed on the 30th of September 2006. The theatre was ceremonially opened on the 12th of October 2006 with the opening night of the musical The Producers by the authors Mel Brooks (music, screenplay) and Thomas Meehan (script). The Czech translation was prepared by Adam Novák with the direction by Antonín Procházka.

The theatre received the Prize of the Mayor of the Capital City of Prague in the year 2007, this being an architectural competition with the theatre awarded for a significant contribution to the renewal of Karlín and for sensitively uniting the original and new architecture.

Sources and Literature:

- Stavební archiv úřadu městské části Praha 8.

- Bohemia 15. 4. 1886; Bohemia 22. 4. 1886; Bohemia 25. 4. 1886; Bohemia 30. 4. 1886.

- Souborná výstava spolku Verein Deutscher Bildender Künstler in Böhmen (kat.), Praha 1908, s. 26.

- Benešová, Marie, Česká architektura v proměnách dvou století 1780-1890, Praha 1984, s. 227.

- Poche, Emanuel, Prahou krok za krokem, Praha 1985, s. 329-330.

- Vybíral, Jindřich, Křtitel pražské secese, Architekt 43, 1997, č. 7-8, s. 57-59.

- Broncová, Dagmar (ed.), Kniha o Praze 8, Praha 1996, s. 74-76.

- Svoboda, Jan E. - Lukeš,  Zdeněk - Havlová, Ester, Praha 1891-1918. Kapitoly o architektuře velkoměsta, Praha 1997, s. 143.

- Hilmera, Jiří, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, s. 47-48.

- Horyna, Mojmír, Architektura přísného a pozdního historismu. Čechy 1860-1890, in: Dějiny českého výtvarného umění 1780/1890 (III/1), Praha 2001, s. 188.

- Krušínová, Alena, Pasportizace umělecko-historických prvků objekt čp. 283, Karlínské hudební divadlo, SÚRPMO Praha 2003-2004.

- Broncová, Dagmar a kol., Praha 8, křížem krážem, Praha 2008, s. 37-39. -+- Stavba XIII, 2006, č. 6, s. 56-57.

- Tomeš, Jaroslav, Obnovená krása Hudebního divadla v Karlíně, Stavební Listy XII, 2006, č. 11-12, s. 24-28.

 

Tags: Art Nouveau, Austria-Hungary, Neo-Baroque, Neo-Renaissance

 

Author: Markéta Svobodová

Translator: David Livingstone

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